Carols of Martin Luther — Serene sounds of the season

To me, renaissance Christmas carols have a certain serenity about them. Perhaps it’s the softness of the instruments, such as the lute, recorder, and virginal. All I know is that in a season where emotions are often whipped up to a fever pitch, they help me stay centered much better than “Frosty” or even “Joy to the World.”

Martin Luther understood the importance of music in worship, and his Christmas hymns are still sung today.

This collection takes five hymns Luther wrote for Weihnachten (Christmas) and presents them with various settings. Luther’s melodies are simple and durable but at the same time malleable enough for all kinds of treatments.

Included are a number of dance arrangements by Michael Praetorius, polyphonic settings for organ by Martin Agricola and others, even arrangements for lute and voice.

All the arrangements are short (only a few pass the 2-minute mark), and the album groups them together by the Luther hymn they set. The seemingly endless permutations of these melodies keep the program interesting. Treatments and instrumental/vocal combinations change almost every track. While I was familiar with some of these works (especially Praetorius), there were some pleasant surprises along the way from the more obscure composers.

Simone Eckert and the Hamburger Ratsmusik play in a simple, straightforward style well-suited to the material. Sopranos Veronika Winter and Ina Sledlaczek sing with pure, unwavering tones. Tenor Jan Kobow’s light delivery nicely balances the ensemble sound. When these voices blend, it’s positively angelic.

This is a beautiful collection of Luther’s music, presented through the arrangements of six generations of composers. I’ll be enjoying this one repeatedly this holiday season.

Euch ist ein Kindlein heut geborn
Luthers Weihnachtslieder (Luther’s Christmas Carols)
Veronika Winter, soprano; Ina Siedlaczek, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor
Hamburger Ratsmusik; Simone Eckert, director
Carus 83.390

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